The day dawned wet and gray. Not ideal conditions, but not the intense thunderstorms that had been predicted all week either. Wisconsin and Pitt faced off on the showcase field in a highly anticipated match up of strong programs, but Pitt was the better team this morning. Uncharacteristic turns from Wisconsin – drops and a few questionable hucks, either flat-out misses or throws to covered receivers – that weren’t common during the early rounds gave Pitt the chances they needed. They broke early and never looked back. Despite questions about how Pitt would match up size-wise with Wisconsin’s big team, the Pitt defense didn’t waver. Unsurprisingly, Max Thorne and newly named Callahan Award winner Trent Dillon led the way. Thorne with four goals and one assist, Dillon with the reverse – four assists and one goal.
Colorado went down to Minnesota before half and could not get their game back on track. Colorado didn’t play particularly poorly. Minnesota just played really well. They ended up rolling to the semifinals with a 15-11 win. Auburn put up a fight, but North Carolina got two early breaks that put them up 5-2. The teams traded break runs in the second half, but Darkside never relinquished their lead and finally won 15-13. Ryan Landry was still a dominant force for Auburn, but JD Hastings was a good match up on defense for him – both have quickness and speed, and Hastings is accustomed to marking talented handlers as part of the "cup" in Darkside’s zone and junk looks. Downfield, Blake Galloway and Eric Sjostrom combined for more than half of Auburn’s goals. Sjostrom tacked four assists onto his stat line as well. Dain Neilsen and Elijah Long both had huge games for Darkside, and the home team moved on to their third straight College Championships semifinal.
The most exciting game of the round was a double-game point thriller between Georgia and Harvard. There were five breaks in the game, spaced from beginning to end, and traded between the teams. John Stubbs and Mark Vandenberg continued to lead the way for Harvard with help from Ben Schartstein and David Reshef. Same goes for Georgia – Sam Little and George Summers were at the helm with help from Nathan Haskell and Sam Batson. With the hard cap looming, Red Line found themselves in a double-game point situation needing to break to win. With a huge layout block on the sideline, Reshef got the disc for Red Line, and their patient offense took over – using resets aplenty, Scharfstein and Vandenberg worked the disc the ~30 yards to the goal line where Vandenberg found Scharfstein cutting up-line for the goal. Harvard advanced to the semifinals for the first time ever. The game was exciting across the board, but the Stubbs v. Little match up was particularly fun to watch. Little couldn’t contain Stubbs entirely, but he did affect Stubbs’ whenever, wherever streak. On the final point, I don’t think Stubbs touched the disc once – waiting in the stack for his teammates to move the disc while keeping Little away from the play. Harvard advanced, and Georgia’s injury-riddled squad now has until next year to get healthy.
North Carolina v. Harvard
The first men’s semifinal got underway with the threat of thunderstorms looming. The local fans were out in force for Darkside, ready to cheer them to another championship. But Harvard has looked better and better all weekend, with the guys outside the top three or four on the roster stepping up their games all along the way. Their offense has looked cleaner with each game, and it showed in the finals. The teams traded until 5-5. On the next point, after a couple turnovers each way, Vandenberg found Stubbs at the cone for the game’s first break, right before a lightning delay forced everyone into their cars for an hour.
A Darkside turn right before the lightning alarm went off gave Harvard a short field on the restart, and they punched it in for a second straight break to go up 7-5. Darkside had tied it up at 9-9 when a collision sidelined Alex Hem, one of Harvard’s biggest and most reliable downfield targets, but they rallied. With a chance to break, Ravenell put a touch flick into the end zone, finding Vandenberg slashing between two defenders and putting Harvard up 12-11 in a game to 13. Darkside went with their most consistent offensive weapons on the next point, putting up a shot to Warshauer deep, but Ravenell got up as the disc flew over the stack to knock it down. Fittingly, Stubbs caught the game-winning goal on an up-line throw from Schartstein, sending Red Line to the finals for the first time in the program’s history.
Darkside has a lot to be optimistic about going forward. Many of their biggest contributors this weekend are also very young. Losing senior leaders like Warshauer, Hastings and Sethuraman will certainly be a blow, but with guys like Matt Gouchoe-Hanas (sophomore), Elijah Long (freshman), March Rovner (freshman) and many others already contributing heavily as underclassmen, North Carolina’s future looks incredibly bright.
Minnesota vs. Pittsburgh
Did somebody say déjà vu? Two of the top teams in the country, and the lone survivors of the top five overall seeds, faced off for the second time of the weekend Sunday evening. A two-hour lightning delay pushed back the semifinal start time to 10:30 p.m., with intermittent storms repeatedly dousing players and fans. Regardless, spirits were high, and constant chanting and cheering from fans on both sides of the field electrified the atmosphere. Plus, the chance to see potential for revenge (Pittsburgh defeated Minnesota 15-13 in pool play) ramped up the heat.
A close game from the start, Minnesota Grey Duck and Pittsburgh En Sabah Nur traded points until Grey Duck pulled to take the half up by three. Grey Duck received out of half and promptly scored, extending the gap to 9-5. En Sabah Nur would rally, mounting a huge comeback to tie the match at 9-9, and the again at 12-12. Marathon points toward the end brought the game to soft cap – game to 14 – and both teams slowly worked to reach 13-13 – double-game point. Grey Duck received, and after much pressure from the gritty Pitt defensive line, was able to score and win, sending the team to the final against Harvard.
For Pittsburgh, Pat Earles and Christian Pitts were highly impressive, working both as handlers behind the disc and as cutters streaking for deep and open cuts. Though not every throw was on point or perfect, the trio looked focused and determined the entire evening. Kyle Hartley made one of the biggest blocks of the game, and Trent Dillon proved his incredible value as the 2016 Callahan Award Winner with his unique ability to reel in nearly every disc shot to him.
Dillon appeared unstoppable for much of the game, but Grey Duck’s Connor Anderson definitely seemed to put a damper on the Callahan winner’s capabilities. Anderson played strong defense against good players and generated multiple opportunities. Ben Jagt certainly lived up to the hype, but the efforts of Soham Shah and Josh Kautz did not go unnoticed.
Looking Forward: Harvard v. Minnesota
Minnesota played Pittsburgh well, both in the air and in man-to-man match ups. Harvard’s fantastic pair of John Stubbs and Mark Vandenberg, along with the intuitive Alexander Hem, will certainly challenge Grey Duck, but if they play like last night, Grey Duck becomes a very formidable team.